The End of White Space!

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For two weeks in a row, I’ve seen articles about the proliferation of non-traditional billboard advertising. The first has to do with pay phones. Remember, pay phones? They’re those big rectangular half-booths you lean on while talking on your cell phone.

As it turns out, almost no one except drug dealers and tourists from Greenland actually use pay phones to make calls. Of course, that’s not why they won’t go away. Advertising is the primary source of revenue for phone booths. In many cases, municipalities get a cut of the revenues.

Generally, advertising as a core revenue driver has made an unlikely comeback of David Hasselhoff-ian proportions. Google showed the post-bubble generation how to print money with ads. As we sit on the precipice of a new bubble, we face a new generation of ad-based business models.

The other article was about consumers getting paid $500-$800 per month to cover their vehicles in adverting ‘skins’ containing company logos. These people also have to agree to be polite, not use competing products and to take pictures of their car outdoors (presumably with their embarrassed families).

This phenomenon is not surprising. I’ve seen boxers temporarily tattoo company logos on their backs, college kids rent themselves out to a single clothing brand, and TV show ads laser-printed onto eggs (I’m not kidding). This made me wonder two things: what’s left and who cares?


As we know, it’s all about impressions and repetition. So any unadorned surface is fair game. Here are some ideas:

  1. City pavement, skyscraper windows and residential houses. These can be painted on, skinned, or projected onto at night. Some stores in Europe do this.
  2. Building interiors & office corridors. I can see sponsors cutting deals with big real estate companies for “tasteful” and “stylish” corporate “art”.
  3. Furniture and appliances. Would you take a $200 discount on a new fridge or dishwasher in exchange for it displaying ads? I know you would!
  4. Themed Hotel Rooms. This would be especially effective for TV promos. Get whacked in the Sopranos room. An Annheiser-Bush Stadium room for the sports fan subsidized by the same sponsors as in the stadium. How about the Katie Couric room? OK, maybe not.
  5. Children. Why not target the ‘cool’ or ‘cute’ ones with special deals on Osh Kosh or ad-riddled clothes? They are influencers.
  6. Cell phones. We look at these things for hours. People are constantly fiddling with them. Why couldn’t they have sponsored screensavers or fun, sponsored ringtones set as defaults. Out of the box, instead of ‘chirp chirp’, it’s ‘Yo quiero Taco Bell’ or ‘Polly wants a Low Sodium Ritz Cracker’


Is this all becoming too surreal? Are we becoming desensitized to all this advertising? Aren’t we eventually going to learn to ignore it because it’s everywhere? The answer, surprisingly, is NO! The human brain is highly susceptible to images and repetition. The more visual something is and the more it is repeated, the more ingrained it becomes in our subconscious.

We are powerless. Numerous trends are pointing towards continued ad-ification of the world:

  1. No politician wants to raise taxes. As municipal desperation for non-tax funds grows, so will advertising.
  2. The sheer abundance of products and communication channels will continue to fuel the competition for our attention.
  3. Availability of consumer data and technology that makes targeting customers increasingly more effective.
  4. Consumers are becoming more tolerant of ad infringements.
  5. What could be sadder than watching the girls and the Aflac duck filling out unemployment forms? (Maybe the duck finishing first?)

Basically, I’m saying that everything will eventually look like Vegas or Times Square. Our only escape will be to places like the Amazon or Yellowstone Park…just as long as you don’t mind that Nike logo shaved into every animal’s fur.

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.